One of the mantras of modern business life is that employees at all levels should be thinking about their customers as they work.
Of course, putting customers first is easier for some employees than it is for others. For folks in sales or service—or any job where the employee actually comes face to face with the customer—customer focus is second nature.
But it's a little more abstract if the employee is not in a"client-facing" position-say, an accountant for an automaker trying to keep purchasing under control. How do you get that accountant to think of a happy family loading into the minivan for a trip to the beach?
The answer is to convey a simple message: that quality and innovation are improved if everyone at every phase of the process thinks of that ultimate consumer. If the accountant is thinking of that family, she might be more likely to catch a sudden shift in the cost of the base metal used to manufacture the screw and ask herself, “Why is that metal cheaper all of a sudden?” She might dig a little deeper, discover that the cost savings came from buying inferior metal, and put the brakes on a purchase that could ultimately cause harm to the customer who buys the minivan.
Seven ways to create a customer-oriented culture
The economic downturn that began in 2007 shifted the balance of power between company and customer, according to a 2014 study by Deloitte’s Ireland office.
“Customer expectations and behaviors have changed dramatically over the past decade,” the report says. “Organizations are expected to meet customers’ needs and expectations at every interaction, in return for customer loyalty. The ability to deliver this depends on the extent to which ‘customer-centricity’ is embedded within every single person in your business.”
‘‘Maintaining a culture is like raising a teenager,’’ says Ray Davis, president and CEO of Umpqua Bank, as quoted by Micah Solomon in Forbes. ‘‘You’re constantly checking in. What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you hanging out with?’’
HelpScout, a help desk software company, suggests seven ways to create a customer-oriented culture:
- Start at the top: The owner or chief executive of the company should set the tone by living it and rewarding it.
- Hire for it: In interviews, assess whether candidates are enthusiastic about quality and aware of the ultimate consumer even if they are not in a client-facing job.
- Fire for it, too: Some companies pay employees to quit if they are unable to focus on the customer.
- Switch it up: Let employees job-shadow others to see how the whole company operates.
- Trust: Once you’ve set the tone and made the stakes clear, let your employees loose to do their jobs without a lot of second-guessing and hovering.
- Communicate: Make sure the lines of communication are open between every member of your team. Collaboration is key to teamwork; so don’t set up barriers between sales and production.
- Reward: This can be as little as a “thank you” or as concrete as a spot bonus for a job well done. The key is to reward good customer relations openly, whether it’s an individual standout or a stellar team accomplishment.
Four ways to help your customer culture grow
The key to developing this kind of awareness in your staff is to build a feedback loop from customer to company to employees and back. Here are four ways the experts cited in this article suggest to achieve that:
- Share internal stories: Encourage employees and their managers to share stories at staff meetings that demonstrate how they anticipated, met or exceeded a customer’s expectations.
- Solicit and share customer feedback: Valuable customer feedback can come from informal chats or formal surveys. The important factor is sharing the results of those interactions with employees.
- Talk about it:Open up stories and feedback to discussion, in forums where employees feel comfortable talking about good work and problem areas—including ideas on how to solve them. Make sure managers’ doors are open to private conversations as well.
- Place no blame: If an employee does bring up a problem, managers must not be defensive or punitive.
"Unlike conventional organizations, the relationship of customer-centric companies with their clients does not end with service/product delivery to the customers," says Jawan Khan, writing for Hiver, an email support company. "They celebrate when their customers find success and lend a helping hand when the clients find it difficult to get full service value."
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